Soundwaves can treat heart disease by blasting open blocked arteries
Soundwaves could be a new way to treat heart disease. Research suggests a tiny, tube‑like device that sends soundwaves through diseased blood vessels can crack the hard calcium deposits that narrow them.
Around 120 patients are being treated with the new device in a clinical trial at 15 centres across Europe, including two NHS hospitals.
Heart disease is the result of the blood vessels becoming constricted and hardened due to a build-up of fatty material known as plaque. This reduces the flow of blood to the heart and other parts of the body.
Reduced blood flow means the heart has to work harder, which can cause angina (chest pain). If a piece of plaque breaks off, it can lead to blood clots, which cut off the blood supply further; when this occurs in the coronary arteries, it can cause a heart attack.
Research suggests a tiny, tube‑like device that sends soundwaves through diseased blood vessels can crack the hard calcium deposits that narrow them
Treatment for heart disease includes dietary changes, drugs that reduce plaque formation and surgery to insert metal coils (stents) or balloons to open up narrowed arteries.
One of the problems with conventional procedures is that plaque is made up of hard calcium that can be impossible to move without damaging healthy tissue. In severe cases, patients may be offered a heart bypass, where blood is re-routed around the blocked or narrowed section of artery using a vein taken from elsewhere in the body.
The new device, called the Coronary Lithoplasty System, uses soundwaves to break up both superficial and deep-lying calcium. Similar but more high-powered technology is used to break up kidney stones, which are also often made of calcium.
Under local anaesthetic, a tiny tube (a catheter) containing a deflated balloon and a soundwave emitter is inserted into an artery in the groin, and navigated to the site of the blockage near the heart. Once in place, the balloon is inflated with a saline solution.
Then the emitter is activated to generate soundwaves through the balloon which then break up the calcium. If a stent is still needed it can then be inserted more safely, the researchers say.
A study last year, reported in the journal JACC: Cardiovascular Imaging, involving 30 patients treated with the device found it had a greater than 90 per cent success rate in opening up a blocked artery. Now, 120 patients will be treated with the soundwave device and monitored for up to 30 days; the two UK centres involved in the trial are the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, and King’s College Hospital in London.
Heart disease is the result of the blood vessels becoming constricted and hardened due to a build-up of fatty material known as plaque
Dr Punit Ramrakha, a consultant cardiologist at the Hammersmith Hospital in London, said: ‘Some people develop extensive calcification as part of the disease.
‘These patients are difficult to treat with conventional methods as the calcium doesn’t stretch and can pop the balloons, or it cracks and the artery may rupture, with potentially serious consequences.
‘Shockwave technology has now been refined for use in coronary arteries to allow directed delivery of soundwaves to the area of interest and creates fractures in the calcium. The clinical trials will determine medium and long-term safety and effectiveness, but I have no doubt that at last we have a way to treat those unfortunate patients with hardened arteries without having to subject them to open heart surgery.’